This Day In History, May 5th

What happened on this day in history: Napoleon Bonaparte dies on Saint Helena, Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space, and more from this date in history.

1818: Karl Marx Is Born

Groundbreaking economist and philosopher Karl Heinrich Marx is born in Trier, Germany. Marx is best known for co-writing The Communist Manifesto, an historic 1848 pamphlet that criticized capitalism and called for a “forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.”

Marx’s theories about politics, society, and economics became known as Marxism, a doctrine focused on the idea that human history is defined by class conflict. Despite the polarizing nature of his work, Karl Marx is widely considered to be one of the most influential thinkers in modern history.

1821: Napoleon Bonaparte Dies

Napoleon Death Mask

Wikimedia CommonsNapoleon’s death mask.

Napoleon Bonaparte, one of the most famous leaders and military commanders in world history, dies in exile on Saint Helena island at the age of 51. The former French ruler had been in exile for six years at the time of his death, and some experts attribute his demise to the damp, moldy conditions of his home on the island, Longwood House. Napoleon’s cause of death as determined by his autopsy was stomach cancer, but other theories claim that he died from arsenic poisoning.

1862: Mexico Wins The Battle Of Puebla

Mexico wins the Battle of Puebla as part of the Second French Intervention in Mexico. After Mexican President Benito Juarez declined to pay loan payments from French, British, and Spanish creditors for two years, French and Spanish forces invaded the country. At the Battle of Puebla, French forces retreated and Mexico reclaimed the city of Puebla, forcing French troops to the coast. The victory was celebrated every year under the name “Cinco de Mayo,” and represents Mexico’s sovereignty and strength in the wake of foreign invasion.

1961: Alan Shepard Becomes The First American In Space

Alan Shepard

NASAAlan Shepard climbs aboard the Freedom 7 in preparation for its historic launch.

Alan Shepard steps inside the Freedom 7 spacecraft in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and becomes the first American in outer space. NASA’s intention was to make Shepard the first human to travel to space, but the Soviet Union successfully sent Yuri Gagarin to space just three weeks prior to Shepard’s mission.

The flight, which aired on live television, lasted just 15 minutes but nevertheless sparked a media sensation. Shepard was treated as a national hero, and President John F. Kennedy awarded him the NASA Distinguished Service Medal.

1981: Bobby Sands Dies

Bobby Sands Last Portrait

PA Images via Getty ImagesBobby Sands died after refusing to eat for more than two months.

Bobby Sands, a member of the Irish Republican Army, dies at the age of 27 after staging a hunger strike while imprisoned in Northern Ireland. He’d been arrested for his role in a 1976 bombing and sentenced to 14 years in prison. While serving his sentence, he decided to begin a hunger strike in hopes of gaining special rights as a political prisoner rather than being treated as a common criminal. He made it 66 days without food, and his cause of death was recorded as “self-imposed starvation.”